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Laurence A. Parks Daloz


Author of Mentor: Guiding the Journey of Adult Learners, Larry Daloz taught adult learners for much of his education career.   Currently an associate at the Whidbey Institute, on Whitbey Island, Washington, Larry sees a strong connection between transformative learning and social responsibility.   Citing South Africa's Nelson Mandella as an excellent example of someone developing ?an extraordinary consciousness – his ability to recognize the essential humanity in others, no matter how different from himself.   Again and again he has reached across the boundaries that separated himself and ?his kind? from others and ?their kind,? often at mortal risk.   Now, in the ?Truth Commissions? of South Africa, he has helped to create a forum for reconciliation, a place of discourse across profound difference, that holds a promise for perhaps the most dramatic and hopeful foundation of any society in modern times? (Daloz, ed. Mezirow, 2000, p. 103).  

Shifts in The Way in Which We Know and Make Meaning

Daloz uses a definition of transformative learning as ?a deep shift in frame of reference s Mezirow defines it.   As a constructive developmentalist, I also assume that such changes towards ?more dependable frames of reference? are probably developmentally related? (Daloz, ed. Mezirow, 2000, p. 104).   Daloz explains that what shifts in the transformative process is our very epistemology – the way in which we know and make meaning.   Daloz discusses the way psychologist Robert Kegan refers to these ?meaning making frames? as ?orders of consciousness? that are both internally driven and externally driven, including social complexity.   While the potential for more adequate meaning making frameworks is always present, transformative learning is not a ?done deal? that will automatically follow from the capacity for it to occur.   Daloz suggests that forces largely responsible for this transformation to occur include particular environmental and cultural forces at work in the individual's life.  

?Clearly, some conditions, such as an effective education and good friends, are more conducive to transformation, than, say, growing up alone in a hostile world.   From Piaget on, it has been forcefully argued that human development is interactive with the environment.   This is an important point because who we become as moral beings, as actors in the world, is invariably affected by the quality of the world in which we are formed.  

Importance of Social Context

Our social context matters enormously as we become enculturated first within immediate families, then to the broader culture, and finally, if circumstances encourage it, through critical reflection on our own formation to a larger sense of self – one that identifies with all people and ultimately with all of life? (Daloz, ed. Mezirow, 2000, p. 104-105).

Daloz underscores the importance of appreciating this capacity to identify one's own sense of self with the well-being of all life that undergirds the term of social responsibility.   Commitment to the common good is seen as a way of openness to necessary and ongoing dialogue with those who may be different or not ready to fully participate in ?community common space.?

Fallacy of Single Event Disorienting Dilemma Transformation   

While transformation is often seen as a solitary and sudden event, the what Daloz calls, ?catalytic events? often presage and ?activate? transformation come from our own Spirituality or from those people who are close to us, family and intimate friends.   Mezirow calls this process, ?incremental transformation.?   Indeed, Daloz' experience with Common Fire, (a study done by Daloz et. al of one hundred socially responsible people), revealed that what we know as transformation was actually the result of a change or shift, years in the making, so while much has been written about the importance of ?disorienting dilemmas,? the disorienting dilemmas help, and may serve as a catalyst, through exerting a steady, cumulative effect towards change. This concept of incremental change more closely reflects what we know about human development.  

Ways of Enabling Students Towards Common Good

Daloz suggests that in our role as educators, we can help our adult learners to lead students toward a greater commitment to the common good through:

•  working to bring students and faculty together across differences (ethnic, class, age,   physical differences)

•  Encouraging explicit recognition and creation of the sort of settings that value mutual respect, safe disclosure, careful listening, and yet genuine willingness to look at difference

•  While recognizing differences, place equal emphasis on seeking areas of common ground, of shared experience and deep human connection

•  Encourage reflective discussion of the effects of social conditioning on our own understanding of ?the way things are? while fostering an openness to change and a commitment to creating more adequate arrangements

•  Help students to recognize their own supportive communities and seek out communities that share their emerging values and commitments in ways that combine both confirmation and challenge

•  Provide opportunities for socially committed groups and organizations to come together and reflect with one another or with those who differ about their deep hopes and aspirations for a world that works better

•  Create experiential learning opportunities – field experiences, practicums, internships – that engage learners with tough issues and dilemmas; encourage critical reflection on these issues and press for action steps

•  Provide at least some opportunities for students to come together to hold the ambiguity, to reflect on the mystery of their lives and commitments – to practice holding their lives and conviction against the backdrop of both radical doubt and unshakeable faith

(from Daloz, Mezirow, Ed., 2000, p. 117-118)

           Interdependence – ?Apart and Part of the World?

?So if we do care about a sustainable and just future for all the beings on the planet, how do we hold our own convictions while honoring our students' rights to theirs??

Daloz asks the question and reminds us that we are ?both apart from and a part of the world,? thus ?emancipatory learning' is not about escape from but rather about a deeper immersion into the rough-and-tumble of human relationship? (Daloz, ed. Mezirow, 2000, p. 120).

Daloz suggests that as we move towards ?an education that reveals and enhances our radical interdependence with all creation frees us from a ?false consciousness' of our separateness into a richer understanding of our underlying relatedness.   I believe that as we deepen our apprehension of this truth we will grow ever less vulnerable to   the either-or thinking of ?self-versus other' and more able to recognize that we are always ?beings in relation' (Buber, 1958).   The real work of our adulthood is to grow more deeply in love with the world.   And as this happens, the possibility of deliberately injuring another person will grow as unthinkable as deliberately injuring ourselves?Our responsibility is to work to bring about transformation at the individual and societal level that will enable us to realize our fundamental interdependence with one another and the world?

(Daloz, ed. Mezirow, 2000, p. 120).  

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